China’s ruling Communist Party on Wednesday opens its 19th Congress, at which President Xi Jinping will map out his ambitions for the country for the next five years and beyond, likely to be high on aspiration and short on concrete details.
Here are some key factors to watch out for:
– Will Xi resurrect the position of party chairman? Xi is currently the party’s general secretary, but not its chairman, a title Mao Zedong and his two successors, Hua Guofeng and Hu Yaobang, both held. Becoming party chairman would put Xi at the same level as Mao and could allow him to effectively end three decades of collective leadership, giving him unparalleled power.
– What will happen to chief corruption-buster Wang Qishan? Speculation has swirled that Wang, 69, could be asked to stay on past an unofficial retirement age limit, either in his current role, or possibly in a new position with an economic portfolio.
– Who will be on the new Standing Committee, the apex of power in China? Currently made up of seven men, most of whom are expected to retire and be replaced by new faces. Possible names include Li Shulei, Wang’s deputy at the anti-corruption watchdog; the Chongqing party chief Chen Miner, who is close to Xi; and the provincial party boss of Guangdong, Hu Chunhua.
If Xi becomes party chairman the significance of the Standing Committee would become diminished, as power would be concentrated in Xi’s hands rather than in the Standing Committee.
– A series of new personnel appointments, like the foreign minister and central bank chief, will be decided, though some may not be formalised and announced until the annual meeting of parliament in March.
– Changing the party’s constitution. Some sort of reference to Xi and his theories will be included in the revised constitution – a further sign of his tightening grip on power.
– Bolstering the anti-corruption and security systems. A new National Supervision Commission, which would combine the roles of several party and government bodies that currently combat graft, will likely be set up.
– The National Security Commission, already headed by Xi, could also get new powers, potentially making it more important than the Central Military Commission, which runs the People’s Liberation Army. That would give the National Security Commission more power to tackle domestic and foreign threats. The exact role of a more powerful Commission is still unclear, including if it will have overall command of both the military and the domestic security forces.
– Whether Xi will anoint a successor. Xi’s rise to the top was confirmed at the 2007 Congress, when he first joined the Standing Committee and then became vice president the following year. Any successor would have to join the Standing Committee at this Congress and be young enough to serve at least three five-year terms. If there is no obvious successor, it will increase speculation that Xi could stay on in power after 2022, when the next Congress occurs, and when Xi should, according to precedent and age limits, step down after two terms in office.
– Whether Xi reaffirms 2013 reform pledges to let market forces play a “decisive” role in the economy, a catchphrase rarely mentioned now. Signals on new reform initiatives will be important, especially concerning state-owned enterprises, the fiscal system, property taxes and land rights. Also important is if there are any fresh measures to tackle industrial overcapacity and debt issues. Any fresh measures to tackle overcapacity and debt issues.
– Any hints on policy priorities for the next five years, both monetary and fiscal, though analysts don’t expect the Congress to unveil any major policy changes. Economic and policy agendas for 2018 will be set at the annual economic work conference later this year.
– New expressions on the economy and reforms, following Xi’s use of the terms “new normal” to describe the more moderate pace of economic growth, and “supply-side structural reform”.
– How the punishing war on pollution is affecting China’s business and government leaders as they prepare for a tough winter campaign aimed at meeting politically sensitive smog reduction targets. Fighting pollution is now a key criterion on which the performance of officials will be judged.